Vince Lombardi

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WELCOME to QuantCoach.com, the only site on the world-wide web that provides meaningful professional football coaching statistics. QuantCoach.com's revolutionary coaching statistics are derived from a peer-reviewed and generally accepted theory of competition known as Growth Theory. Veteran coach Bill Parcells once said, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." But Growth Theory teaches us that success "springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking." In professional football, those "recipes" are the plays that coaches design. Simply, QuantCoach.com's coaching statistics separate the contribution of plays to pro football success from the contribution of players.

THE ARCHIVES (2011-Part 1)

Super Bowl: Final 2011 Season Thoughts

Super Bowl XLVI was a microcosm of New England's 2011 regular season.

Bill Belichick's team got off to a bumpier than expected start. In the Super Bowl, an intentional grounding penalty on quarterback Tom Brady that gave New York a safety and a 12-men on the field penalty that negated a drive-stopping turnover put the Patriots down 9-0 and on the ropes early. But, just as the Patriots responded after a mistake-plagued 5-3 start to the regular season with an impressive must-win win over the New York Jets, coach Bill Belichick's team came back.

Suddenly, New England could do no wrong. Brady completed 16 passes in a row, including touchdown tosses to Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez. Midway through the third quarter, the Patriots were in control, 17-9. It was much like the second half of the regular season in which New England won 8 straight games while averaging better than plus-2 turnovers per game.

Then, as suddenly as their perfection had emerged, it vanished again. Brady struggled for the rest of the game and the Giants rallied to win, 21-17. New York won the turnover battle on 1-0 on the strength of linebacker Chase Blackburn's fourth quarter interception. It was the third straight game the Patriots lost the turnover battle and left New England minus-4 turnovers in their three playoff games.

The Giants, on the other hand, were plus-2, plus-3, plus-2, and plus-1 turnovers in their four playoff games. It's almost impossible for a good team to lose any NFL game when plus-2 turnovers and coach Tom Coughlin's team is a good, not great, team.

What New York proved is that a balanced team can still win a championship. The Giants did not throw the ball the best or run the ball the best or defend the best. But they did everything well. And Eli Manning and friends one turnover in the playoffs was by far the best mark in that statistical category.

It is tempting to think that Green Bay, which finished the season 15-1 before falling to New York in the divisional round, lost this Super Bowl championship as much as the Giants won it. Behind Aaron Rogers, the Packers offense was infinitely productive during the regular season. But Miami and Dan Marino in 1984 and Indianapolis and Peyton Manning in 2004 also were infinitely productive and failed to win the Super Bowl. (San Francisco and Joe Montana was infinitely productive in 1989 and crushed Denver in the Super Bowl, 55-10.)

After New York won, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted that the "hot team," but perhaps not the best team, wins the championship.

That's one way to look at it.

But nobody could deny that at the end of 2011, the most complete team was the New York Giants.


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SUPER BOWL PREVIEW

New England (-3) vs. New York Giants

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 7th; NY Giants 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 3rd; NY Giants 4th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 3rd (+17); NY Giants T7th (+7)

Its another Super Bowl where theteamsarethisclosestatistically.

As this table shows, New England and New York are virtually equal in every statistical category. The Patriots protect the passer a little better than the Giants; New York pressures the passer a little better than New England. Both teams throw the ball well and neither defends the pass very well. It should be interesting.

Category

New England NFL Rank

NY Giants NFL Rank

Play Design (HA) Differential

7th

5th

Player Productivity (HY) Differential

3rd

4th

QCYPA

2nd

4th

D-QCYPA

28th

21st

Pass Protection

3rd

10th

Pass Pressure

14th

3rd

Turnover Margin

3rd

T7th

With no obvious statistical edge, the QuantCoach looked back at the regular season meeting in Week 9, which the Giants won 24-20. New York wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and running back Ahmad Bradshaw did not play in that game. The Giants also won the turnover battle, 4-2, as Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. On the other side of ball, New England's hobbled tight end, Rob Gronkowski, had a big game (8-101-TD). He might not be at full speed on Sunday.

So those picking New York have some good reasons to think the Giants will win.

But QC is not one of them.

In the Week 9 game, Brady played well in the first half, but could not overcome starting drives at his own 10, 6, 17, 20, 11, and 9 yard lines. Usually reliable kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 27-yard field goal. Brady's turnovers cost the Patriots 3 points and gave the Giants 10-points. Still, with less than 2 minutes to play, New England led 20-17 and might have survived if backup defensive back Sergio Brown had not run over Victor Cruz and drawn a penalty that gave New York a first down at the Patriots' 1-yard line.

The game was a good demonstration of a New England quality that heretofore has been completely overlooked.

Nobody in the NFL is better than Bill Belichick's Patriots when the game is not going as designed.

When a game is going as designed and expected, every team in the NFL looks good. Indeed, the better designed team wins in the NFL 75 percent of the time. But what is a team's record in "black swan" games when the team that wins is not designed as well as the loser. The records of the Super Bowl teams over the past two years in such games are:

New England: 10-1 (.909)
New York: 3-5 (.400)

In other words, the Patriots have been involved in more games than the Giants where the "better team" loses and New England tends to win such games by a more than 2-1 margin compared to New York. Of course, turnovers can still ruin the Patriots (just like any other team), as they did in New England's only "black swan" loss in the last two years, the loss to the Giants in Week 9.

But, if Brady avoids turnovers, the QuantCoach likes New England to win (and maybe even cover if the point spread drops below 3 points before kickoff) whether the Patriots out play New York or not.

Like life in Jurrasic Park or Peter Griffin's washing machine, Belichick finds a way.
QC's Pick: New England (SU and ATS)

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Championship Round Thoughts

Baltimore's 23-20 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game was an almost perfect carbon copy of the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Patriots in Week 6 of the 2010 season. In both games, Baltimore enjoyed a plus-2 turnover edge. Quarterback Joe Flacco averaged 8.34 (2010) and 8.35 (AFC Title) yards per pass attempt while Tom Brady averaged 6.5 and 6.3, respectively. In 2010, Baltimore was about 6% better designed and 4.19 more productive while in the AFC Championship the Ravens were 5.6% better designed and 4.75 more productive. In 2010, the Patriots won on kicker Steven Gostkowski's field goal in overtime. In the AFC Title, the Patriots won when Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff's missed field goal prevented overtime. Amazing.

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San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams lost 2 fumbles in the 49ers 20-17 loss to New York in the NFC Championship Game. But just as significantly, it was only the third time all year that the opposition did not subsidize San Francisco with at least 2 turnovers. During the regular season, Detroit did not give Jim Harbaugh's team any turnovers, but the 49ers still won 24-19. Brother John's Baltimore team did turn the ball over in the Ravens 16-6 win in the Har Bowl. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was sacked, hit, and pressured frequently, but he stubbornly refused to make the big mistake. That is why New York is in the Super Bowl.

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Dennis Allen for Hue Jackson

What is the Raiders' new general manager Reggie McKenzie thinking?

Michael Lombardi and Jason LaCanfora have reported on twitter that McKenzie has hired Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to replace Hue Jackson as the head coach of the Raiders.

Can this be justified? Let's look at the numbers.

Both Oakland and the Broncos were 8-8 last year. So if a coach "is what his record says he is," as Bill Parcells once said, this does not look like an upgrade. It looks even worse if you examine the coaching statistics.

In 2011, Denver ranked 27th in play design differential. All of the head coaches and their assistants who ranked between 26th and 32nd except the Broncos' Fox and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier were fired after the season. Under Jackson, the Raiders tied with Philadelphia for 8th in play design differential. All of the teams that ranked between 1st and 10th, except for Oakland and the Eagles, made the playoffs. No team ranked lower than 16th (Cincinnati) made the playoffs other than Denver.

Like McKenzie, a former linebacker, Allen is a defensively oriented coach. But the Broncos defense ranked just 20th in D-QCYPA (7.386), two places behind the Raiders' defense (7.209). Concededly, Denver's pass pressure ranked 7th in the NFL, a big improvement from the year before Allen got there when it ranked 30th. But most of that improvement probably was attributable to the addition of rookie Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil returning from an injury. Miller and Dumervil will not be joining Allen in Oakland.

Jackson was an offensively oriented coach. Using his play designs, the Raiders ranked 7th in QCYPA (7.942), a figure that was better than playoff qualifiers Houston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta and San Francisco. Oakland achieved that ranking despite losing starting quaterback Jason Campbell to a broken collar bone in Week 6, transitioning through Kyle Boller, and getting Carson Palmer off the beach.

Once Jackson got Palmer acclimated after the bye week, he torched Allen's defense for 332 yards and 3 TDs (9.886 QCYPA) in a Week 9 meeting with Denver. The Broncos prevailed, 38-24, not because Allen's defense stopped the Raiders, but because Palmer threw 3 interceptions (a blemish that is not likely to disappear under Allen), Tim Tebow sprung the triple option on the Raiders' defense, and Eddie Royal returned a punt for a touchdown.

Finally, you have to wonder if McKenzie watched the Broncos 45-10 divisional round loss to New England. In that game, Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady tossed 6 touchdown passes--five in the first half--and did whatever he wanted to Allen's defense. Duing the regular season, Green Bay's Aaron Rogers and Detroit's Matthew Stafford also easily solved the Broncos' defense in lopsided wins.

Maybe Allen will prove to be an excellent coach and McKenzie's hire will be justfied.

But at this point in time, the coaching statistics suggest that McKenzie wanted a head coach who owes him allegiance for his job more than he wanted performance on the field.

Good luck Raiders' fans.

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Championship Round Playoff Preview

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

San Francisco (-2.5) vs. New York Giants

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 15th; NY Giants 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 14th; NY Giants 4th
TURNOVER MARGIN: San Francisco 1st (+28); NY Giants T7th (+7)

When the teams met in Week 10, San Francisco held on for a 27-20 win in a game in which the coaching statistics were even closer than the final score. New York was less than one percent better designed than the 49ers and less than 1/4 point more productive. If Justin Smith had not knocked down Eli Manning's fourth down pass from the San Francisco 10-yard line, the game probably would have ended in a tie and the teams would have gone to sudden death. The 49ers played almost the entire game that day without runnning back Frank Gore, but the Giants played the entire game without running back Ahmad Bradshaw. In addition, New York linebacker Michael Boley missed the second half of the game, and San Francisco tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker broke loose with him out of the game. However, when their respective entire bodies of work from the regular season are considered, it is clear that the Giants are the better designed and more productive team. The 49ers defense is sound and Justin Smith has been an unstoppable pass rusher at times, but the secondary was hurt by Dallas and Arizona in the regular season and New Orleans in the second half last week. All of these teams had receivers who could make big plays and New York does too with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham. New York ranked right behind the Saints in the regular season in both play design and player productivity differential. If Manning has time to throw, he will make big plays too. Turnovers have been the great equalizer all year for San Francisco. Turnovers did in New Orleans against the 49ers just as they did in the Giants in Week 10 when Manning threw two interceptions, one of which led directly to a Kendall Hunter touchdown run. San Francisco has been magical all year. But it took every last drop of effort and magic to subdue the Saints. It is hard to see the 49ers being able to wring that kind of performance and perserverence from themselves again so soon. But there again, San Francisco rarely has failed to surprise all year.
QC's Pick: NY Giants (SU and ATS)

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New England (-7.5) vs. Baltimore

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 7th; Baltimore 10th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 3rd; Baltimore 13th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 3rd (+17); Baltimore T11th (+2)

When these teams met last year, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco torched New England's pass defense for 285 yards passing and two touchdowns on only 35 attempts (8.3 QCYPA) and did not commit a turnover. The Ravens defense battered Tom Brady (.568 pass pressure), who was not very productive (6.3 QCYPA) and threw two interceptions. But Baltimore still lost in overtime, 23-20. Candidly, it is hard to imagine that Flacco can be any more productive or that Brady could be any less productive. That is the Ravens' problem. New England is less than one percent better designed than Baltimore as measured by design differential. But the Patriots are much more productive as measured by player productivity differential. Tom Brady simply gets more bang for his buck from the Patriots' offensive designs than Flacco gets from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's maligned designs. It also seems unlikely that the Patriots, who committed two turnovers in their 45-10 win over Denver in the divisional round after being plus-17 turnovers during the regular season, will give Baltimore two or more turnovers again. So Flacco will have to earn everything he gets. Looking at each team's entire regular season body of work, the only area where the the Ravens are substantially better is pass defense. But Baltimore's third-ranked pass rush has not gotten much pressure lately and San Diego's Philip Rivers showed what a proven passer like Brady can do to the Ravens' secondary if given time to find receivers. The 7.5 point spread is set just about perfectly so your guess is as good as QC's as to whether New England will cover. But its a pretty good bet that Belichick, Brady and the rest of the Patriots will win straight up and return to the Super Bowl for the fifth time in the last 12 years.
QC's Pick: New England (SU and ATS)

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Divisional Round Thoughts

The play call San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman made for quarterback Alex Smith's sweep for a fourth quarter touchdown in the 49ers 36-32 win over New Orleans was the call of the year. With Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams bringing a big blitz from the opposite side, it was the perfect call. Those who said Smith made a mistake in scoring the touchdown rather than pulling up at the 1-yard line so that San Francisco could bleed clock are talking silly talk. Such a decision fits in the category of play design. Nobdy designs a pull-up play when trailing in the fourth quarter. Besides, the touchdown required New Orleans to score a touchdown of its own and, if San Francisco had succeeded on the subsequent two-point PAT, even that only would have tied the game. Saints quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham bailed Williams out with a long touchdown pass after Smith's scoring run. But Williams just could not keep his hand off the stove and Smith burned him again with the late touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis that won the game.

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Yes, New York's defense played very well in the Giants 37-20 whipping of Green Bay and yes the Packers' four turnovers doomed their effort to repeat as Super Bowl champions. But what really did in coach Mike McCarthy's team was the near total absence of a pass rush. In the first half, New York quarterback Eli Manning had all day and night to throw and shredded Green Bay's pass defense. Last year, the Packers ranked first in the NFL in QC's pass pressure statistic. This year, Green Bay ranked 32nd, dead last. QC still can't figure out how the Packers went from first to worst in pass pressure. Interior rusher Cullen Jenkins signed with Philadelphia in the off-season and the Eagles ranked second in pass pressure. Jenkins is a good pass rusher, but he's not that good.

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Baltimore's 20-17 win over Houston was marked by nine Ravens' punts. The game was that boring.

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Prior to meeting in Foxboro, New England and Denver ranked, repectively, as follows in QC's key play design differential, player productivity differential, and turnover differential statistics: Patriots: 7th, 3rd and 3rd; Broncos: 27th, 25th, and 27th. In light of those numbers, New England's 45-10 wipeout hardly looks surprising.

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Divisional Round Playoff Preview

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

San Francisco (+3.5) vs. New Orleans

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 15th; New Orleans 4th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: San Francisco 14th; New Orleans 2nd
TURNOVER MARGIN: San Francisco 1st (+28); New Orleans T19th (-3)

San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has had two weeks to get ready for Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and the rest of the Saints’ scorching-hot offense. The 49ers defense will be ready. But, to put it bluntly, San Francisco cannot win this game without turnovers. Quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore will have some success against the New Orleans defense—probably more than most people expect—but they won’t be able to keep up with Brees if New Orleans is mistake free. Fangio’s defense is the best in the red zone in the NFL. If his defenders can turn Brees over a time or two and force the Saints to settle for field goals a couple of other times, Smith and Gore will squeeze out just enough offense to get the 49ers into the NFC Championship Game.
QC's Pick: San Francisco (SU and ATS)

Green Bay Packers (-7.5) vs. New York Giants

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Green Bay 3rd; NY Giants 5th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Green Bay 1st; NY Giants 4th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Green Bay 2nd (+24); NY Giants T7th (+7)

Of all the teams in the playoffs, New York matches up the best against Green Bay. Indeed, in their regular season meeting, the Giants were better designed and more productive, but settling for field goals and few turnovers allowed the Packers to escape New York with a 38-35 win. Quarterback Eli Manning can match Aaron Rogers throw-for-throw and drive-for-drive. And he probably won’t face as much resistance as Rogers will face from Justin Tuck and the other New York pass rushers. Green Bay’s offense finished the year infinitely productive and it should have wide receiver Greg Jennings and tackle Chad Clifton back on the field. The Packers will score. Rogers is also a little less likely than Manning to generate turnovers, although Eli generally has been very good in that area. It’s possible that a rested and healed Green Bay will overwhelm New York with its efficiency and the Giants will turn the ball over as they press to keep pace. But it’s just as likely that Manning will match Rogers’ productivity and New York’s defense will make the difference and Tom Coughlin will notch another huge upset on his belt.
QC's Pick: NY Giants (SU and ATS)

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New England (-13.5) vs. Denver

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 7th; Denver 27th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New England 3rd; Denver 25th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New England 3rd (+17); Denver T27th (-12)

Tim Tebow and the Broncos’ offense had its way with New England’s defense in the first quarter of their regular season meeting. Then, in the second quarter, Denver subsidized the Patriots with three turnovers and New England rallied and then pulled away. Obviously, Tebow and the Broncos cannot do that again. In addition, it is unlikely that Denver could keep up in shootout. Bill Belichick’s defense will play much more passively than the Steelers’ did last week in an effort to contain, rather than attack, Tebow. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, et al. will get their yards and points when they have the ball and are unlikely to help the Broncos cause with turnovers. So for Denver to win, Tebow will have to be patient as well as mistake free and the Broncos will have to dominate the game on the ground. That is a difficult recipe to follow in the NFL. Tebow may do it well enough to cover the 13.5 point spread, but he is unlikely to do it well enough to pull off another outright miracle win. He’s only human.
QC's Pick: New England SU; Denver ATS

Baltimore (-7.5) vs. Houston

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Baltimore 10th; Houston 2nd
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Baltimore 13th; Houston 6th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Baltimore T11th (+2); Houston T7th (+7)

This is another rematch from the regular season. In the first meeting, Baltimore prevailed 29-15 over a Houston team guided by first-string quarterback Matt Schaub. The Texans, of course, will be without Schaub this time and will have to go with rookie T.J. Yates under center. Even more disconcerting for Houston is that the Ravens were minus-2 turnovers in the first game and the Texans still lost by two touchdowns. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco enjoyed one of his most productive games and hurt Houston with big passes to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens defense controlled Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Quite simply, this was not a good matchup for the Texans with Schaub and its an even worse matchup without him.
QC's Pick: Baltimore (SU and ATS)

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Wild-Card Round Thoughts

Dick LeBeau is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His brain is part of the brain in QC's "Jar of Football Knowledge." But his defensive game plan for Tim Tebow in Pittsburgh's stunning 26-20 overtime loss to Denver was shockingly reckless. There were only two ways for the Broncos to win this game. The first was for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to provide Denver a bushel of turnovers. The other was for the game to be decided by five or six big plays, and not by 30 or 40 smaller plays where Pittsburgh's clear superiority would make the difference. By crowding the line of scrimmage, LeBeau dared Tebow to make big plays. And he did. Tebow posted an incredible 16 QCYPA against a defense that during the regular season allowed the average passer a mere 5.474 QCYPA, easily the lowest in the NFL. Indeed, the only quarterback this year to post a better QCYPA was Houston's Matt Schaub (17 QCYPA) and that came against the awful Tampa Bay pass defense. (As an aside, the best QCYPA posted since QC began keeping track was Drew Brees' 18.130 in a 38-17 win over New England in 2009.) It is well-established that defending option football is about disciplined assignment defense against the run and preventing big plays against the pass. LeBeau is still one of the best ever, but against Denver he looked like a beginner. The price for LeBeau's fatal design miscalculation is that the defending AFC-champion Steelers will watch the rest of the playoffs like the QuantCoach.

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In a battle of rookie quarterbacks starting their first playoff games, you had to figure one would crack. That's what happened in Houston's 31-10 spanking of Cincinnati. The Texans' T.J. Yates got away with a few questionable decisions early in the game. The Bengals' Andy Dalton was not so lucky. Particularly devastating was defensive end J.J. Watt's interception and subsequent touchdown return that gave Houston a 17-10 halftime lead. Dalton finished with three interceptions while Yates settled down and played mistake-free. That is why the Texans are going to Baltimore and Cincinnati is going home.

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In the aftermath of New York's 24-2 pounding of Atlanta, many were wondering whether this year's version of Giants is as good as the 2007 version that made an unexpected run to a Super Bowl title. They are not. They are much better than the 2007 team. The 2007 Giants were minus-9 in turnovers during the regular season and about 1.7 percent worse designed than their opponents before going on a plus-5 turnover run in the playoffs and outdesigning three of their four opponents, including unbeaten New England in the Super Bowl. This New York team was plus-7 turnovers and more than 3.3 percent better designed than their opponents during the regular season. Their domination of the Falcons was not a fluke.

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Despite running out of gas in a 45-28 loss to New Orleans, coach Jim Schwartz's Detroit Lions look like they will be a genuine contender in 2012 if their key players stay healthy. When Schwartz took over after Detroit finished 0-16 in 2008, the Lions were the third worst designed and least productive team in the league. This year, Schwartz's third in Detroit, the Lions were the sixth best designed and seventh most productive team in the league. Wide receiver Titus Young and defensive tackle Nick Fairley are young players who could make big leaps with a year of experience and running back Mikel LeShoure, who missed all of 2011 with an injury, might provide the physical runner the team lacked. Schwartz is right on schedule.

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Wild-Card Round Playoff Preview

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New Orleans (-10.5) vs. Detroit

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 4th; Detroit 6th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: New Orleans 2nd; Detroit 7th
TURNOVER MARGIN: New Orleans T18th (-3); Detroit 4th (+11)

Detroit gave the high-powered Saints a turnover in a Week 13 loss and committed 11 penalties and still only lost in the Super Dome by 14 points. New Orleans has been dominant at home, but Lions quarterback Matt Stafford kept up the last time and QC expects him to do it again. Detroit enjoys a big edge in turnover differential and it will probably take at least plus-2 or even plus-3 turnovers for the Lions to actually prevail. Drew Brees has been so generous on the road in stunning losses to St. Louis and Tampa Bay, two of the worst teams in the NFL. But QC does not expect such generosity from Brees in a home playoff game. QC doesn't have the onions to predict an outright Detroit victory, but he probably would be less surprised than most if it happens.
QC's Pick: New Orleans SU; Detroit ATS

New York Giants (-3) vs. Atlanta

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: NY Giants 5th; Atlanta 13th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: NY Giants 4th; Atlanta 12th
TURNOVER MARGIN: NY Giants T7th (+7); Atlanta T5th (+8)

New York is the most underrated and dangerous darkhorse in the tournament. The Giants rank in the top 5 in the NFL in both play design and player productivity differential and in the top 10 in turnover differential. Quarterback Eli Manning is as efficient in the fourth quarter as some of the greatest ever such as Elway or Montana. Wide receiver Victor Cruz has emerged as one of the league's top playmakers. Atlanta actually is better from a play design and player productivity perspective than it was last year when it finished 13-3. Rookie wide receiver Julio Jones came on in the second half of the year and he will have to contribute a big play or two if the Falcons hope to win this game. The Falcons are growing in the right direction, but the QuantCoach does not expect them to measure up to the Giants on the pantry door just yet.
QC's Pick: NY Giants (SU and ATS)

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Houston (-4) vs. Cincinnati

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Houston 2nd; Cincinnati 16th
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Houston 6th; Cincinnati 17th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Houston T7th (+7); Cincinnati 17th (0)

On paper, this game looks like a statistical mismatch, but Houston is not the same team on offense without quarterback Matt Schaub. The Texans are still the same team on defense and that should be too much for the Bengals who are the essence of a middle of the pack team. Cincinnati is in the playoffs because almost all of the bounces went their way early in the season in wins over Cleveland, Seattle, and Jacksonville. When the two teams met in Cincinnati in Week 14, the Texans prevailed even at minus-2 turnovers. That does not bode well for the Bengals. Further, Texans running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate look primed for a big game after Baltimore's Ray Rice gashed the Cincinnati defense for two long touchdown runs in Week 17. QC likes Houston to win its first playoff game in team history, although the margin may be just a field goal.
QC's Pick: Houston Texans (SU and ATS)

Denver (+8.5) vs. Pittsburgh

PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 27th; Pittsburgh 1st
PLAYER PRODUCITIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Denver 25th; Pittsburgh 5th
TURNOVER MARGIN: Denver 27th (-12); Pittsburgh T28th (-13)

Denver somehow managed to win the AFC West despite ranking last in the division in play design and turnover differential and just ahead of Kansas City in player productivity differential. Thanks to its defense, Pittsburgh led the NFL in play design differential, but the Steelers had a major problem in with turnover differential. Still, this is a statistical mismatch everywhere else. If the Broncos win straight up, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history. However, if Tim Tebow eliminates the turnovers that have plagued him the last three weeks, Denver can hang in a low-scoring defensive game because with Ben Roethlisberger hobbling and Rashard Mendenhall out, Pittsburgh does not have the firepower to bury the Broncos without some turnover help. The Steelers failed to cover 8.5 points against Indianapolis, Kansas City and Cleveland so QC expects a Pittsburgh victory, but no blowout.
QC's Pick: Pittsburgh SU; Denver ATS

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2011 Season: Week 17 Thoughts

Those who are suggesting that the incredible performance of Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn in th e Packers win over the Lions in the season finale somehow suggests starting quarterback Aaron Rogers is not the NFL's MVP are heretics who do not observe QC's 1st Commandment. The relationship between play design and playmaking is direct. Flynn did a great job of following coach Mike McCarthy's directions for one game. Rogers did it for 15 games. The Packers finished the year infinitely productive. An MVP selection is inherently subjective, so if you like Drew Brees setting an individual record better than Rogers producing infinitely, so be it. Just don't tell QC Flynn's performance diminishes Rogers' incredible season. That's nonsense.

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In six of the NFL's eight divisions, the best designed team in the division had the best record in the division. (Pittburgh, the best designed team in the AFC North, had the same record as Baltimore but lost the division on the head-to-head tie-breaker.) In the AFC West, Oakland was the best designed team, but the Raiders also were the most penalized team in the NFL. In the NFC West, Arizona actually was infintesimally better designed (.0002) than San Francisco, but the 49ers (plus-28 turnovers) enjoyed a massive edge in turnover differential over the Cardinals (minus-13 turnovers).

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With a strong close, Philadelphia (8-8) finished the season as the best designed team in the NFC not to make the playoffs. Turnovers (minus-14) were the undoing of coach Andy Reid's team. But the Eagles still might have squeezed into the tournment if they had not let their game in Week 2 against the Falcons get away. If Philadelphia had won, both Atlanta and the Eagles would have finished 9-7 and Philadelphia would have advanced on the head-to-head tie-breaker.

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If the NFL used QC's play design differential statistic as its first tie breaker, the NFL playoffs would look like this. The AFC would be the same except Oakland, not Denver, would be the AFC West champion. Pittsburgh would be the AFC North champion and Baltimore would be the first wild-card. Tennessee, rather than Cincinnati, would be the second wild-card. The NFC would be exactly the same.

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2011 Season: Week 16 Thoughts

QC loves underrated players and was happy to see ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook recognize San Diego guard Kris Dielman as one of the NFL's most underrated in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. "Among the best linemen of the past decade," Easterbrook wrote, "Dielman not only was undrafted, he had never taken a snap at offensive line in high school or college before trying the position in the pros." Well, this is not exactly true. The QuantCoach saw Dielman play high school football at Troy High School in Troy, Ohio. Dielman's official position was tight end, but in coach Steve Nolan's offense, that was an offensive line position. On the night QC was there, Dielman paved the way for running back Ryan Brewer to rush for nearly 300 yards in a win over arch-rival Piqua High School. You might remember Brewer. He was the tough running back that Lou Holtz lured to South Carolina when Ohio State passed on him. Brewer's three touchdown performance in a 24-7 win over the Buckeyes in the 2001 Outback Bowl cost Ohio State coach John Cooper his job. Coincidentally, New England tackle Matt Light also was a high school tight end in the same league as Dielman at Greenville High School.

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In their 29-14 win over the Jets, Eli Manning and the Giants showed just how meaningless completion percentage can be. Manning completed just one-third of his pass attempts (9-27). But he still posted an excellent 8.408 QCYPA. Concededly, Manning’s efficiency was built largely on one huge play, a 99-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz. Further, it will not be often that NFL passer exceeds 8 QCYPA while completing only one-third of his passes. But neither of those facts undermine the fact that an offense does not receive any first downs or points for completions alone and that, therefore, completion percentage is to a certain extent a cosmetic statistic.

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Most Green Bay fans probably felt good after the Packers dispatched the Bears, 35-21, to clinch home field throughout the NFC playoffs. But the victory may have concealed a fatal Green Bay flaw: No pass rush. Last year, the Packers led the NFL in pass rush, taking approximately .6 yards from their opponents every time they attempted to pass. This year Green Bay is taking barely .3 yards per pass attempt. On Christmas Night, despite Chicago’s porous offensive line, the Packers hardly got a breath of pressure on off-the-street quarterback Josh McKown. Every team in the NFC playoffs will have a quarterback who can hurt Green Bay if given time to do so and it appears they will have time. If Green Bay’s defense does not receive its usual allotment of turnovers or, heaven forbid, quarterback Aaron Rogers distributes a few turnovers, the Pack won’t make it to Indy.

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They're at it again. In 2010, the Patriots reached the midway point of the season with a 6-2 record. New England went unbeaten the rest of the way largely because it committed only a single turnover in its concluding eight games. After starting this year 5-3, Tom Brady and company have won seven games in row largely because they have committed only two turnovers during that stretch. That is simply amazing.

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Denver’s Tim Tebow looked awful in the Broncos 40-14 loss to the Bills. Tebow threw four interceptions and Buffalo returned two of the picks for touchdowns. It was Denver’s and Tebow’s second turnover-plagued game in a row. The Broncos turned it over three times the week before in a loss to the Patriots. No quarterback—not Peyton Manning, not Tom Brady, not Drew Brees, not Aaron Rogers, and not Tebow—can win at minus-3 or minus-4 turnovers. If Denver sticks with Tebow, it may just have to acceot the fact that its wins will be ugly--and its losses will be hideous. Until the last fortnight, Tebow’s greatest strength had been his ability to avoid turnovers and win close games. Let’s say that Tebow can consistently avoid turnovers and produce enough wins for the Broncos to finish between 8-8 and 11-5 on a yearly basis and stay in the playoff chase until the last few games of the season, but the wins are close and the losses are not. Will Denver’s management be able to stomach such a “style” of success? It remains to be seen.

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2011 Season: Week 15 Thoughts

After absorbing a 45-19 loss in Philadelphia, the New York Jets' player productivity differential is exactly 0. In other words, after 14 games, the Jets have been exactly as productive as their opponents. New York's turnover differential also is 0. The Jets are perfectly mediocre.

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It seemed like Oakland lost the game to Detroit on the last drive of the game when Lions quarterback Matt Stafford hit wide receiver Calvin Johnson for a touchdown and a 28-27 lead with seconds to play. But Raiders coach Hue Jackson really lost the game much earlier when he went for a first down on the Raiders' first drive of the game at the Detroit 24-yard line on 4th-and-1. The Lions held. If Oakland had those 3 points in their pocket, Stafford's heroics would have been for naught. Patience is always undervalued.

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A few weeks ago, the preseason prediction of Sports Illustrated's Peter King that San Diego and Atlanta would meet in the Super Bowl looked pretty silly. But now both the Chargers and the Falcons are rolling. San Diego destroyed Baltimore, 34-14, and Atlanta rolled over Jacksonville, 41-14. The Chargers will need a lot of help to qualify (Buffalo must beat Denver), but if you were looking for a couple of darkhorses, King's prediction is not looking so bad.

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Look for San Francisco and New Orleans to play hard to the end to secure the second seed in the NFC playoffs. Not only will the second seed be on the other side of the bracket from the Packers, that team will get home field advantage in what is almost sure to be a 49ers vs. Saints divisional round game. The teams could not be more opposite. New Orleans has been as efficient on offense as any team in the past few weeks, including the Packers, and San Francisco plays the best defense in the NFL and gets by on offense. Whoever has the home field in this game will be the favorite to advance.

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2011 Season: Week 14 Thoughts

Chad Millman, the QuantCoach is calling you out!

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Chad Millman is the Editor in Chief of ESPN the Magazine and hosts the "Behind the Bets" pod cast on ESPN. On his December 12, 2011 podcast, Millman discussed a betting theory known as the "80/20 Rule" with one of the rule's greatest advocates, Dan Farbrizio of sportsinsights.com. (Full disclosure: The QuantCoach has a 1 1/4 hour drive to work and a 1 1/4 hour drive home from work every day. His is a big fan of the "Behind the Bets" pod cast.)

"When you have a home dog in which 80 percent of the bets are on the road fave, it's a winning formula," Mr. Millman wrote on his blog. "I tested his theory this weekend and included the two 80-20 games -- the Niners getting 82 percent of bets as 3.5-point faves at Zona and the Pats getting 84 percent of bets as 7.5-point faves at Washington -- in my SuperContest five. I won both games."

Mr. Millman was referring to taking Arizona and 3.5 points against San Francisco and Washington and 8 points against New England in the Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest. Mr. Millman also chose Tennessee at home getting 3.5 points against New Orleans, a choice that was just outside the 80/20 Rule (74% of the picks were on the Saints). Finally, Mr. Millman took a pair of road underdogs: Chicago and 3.5 points at Denver and Tim "Could You Please Just Stay Dead" Tebow and the New York Giants and 3.5 points in the Jones-Mahal in Dallas.

The QuantCoach also is bumping along in the SuperContest. QC took only one underdog, Houston and 3 points with a quarterback (T.J. Yates) making his second NFL start in Cincinnnati. QC then took four favorites. He took Denver and Tim "Rising from the Dead Is Not Just for Easter Sunday Anymore" Tebow against the Bears and Atlanta laying 2.5 points to rookie quarterback Cam Newton in Carolina. The QuantCoach's theory was incredibly simple: QC was speculating that Tebow and Ryan would win the turnover battle versus a Matt Forte-less Caleb Hanie and Newton. To boot, both Tebow and Ryan played on teams that were a tiny bit better designed, albeit Denver was only better if you forgot the Kyle Orton era. Fortunately, after extensive surveying in the state of Colorado, it is clear that every single person has!

QC also went directly against hailing the Editor in Chief or the Redskins with his other two picks. QC chose the 49ers and laid the 3.5 points and chose the Patriots and laid the 8 points against Washington. Again, QC's thinking was driven by turnovers. San Francisco (+18) came into the game with a massive edge in turnover differential over Arizona (-8). New England (+8) enjoyed almost as big an edge in Washington (-13) ... and the Patriots were facing turnover machine Rex Grossman.

Here is the QuantCoach's analysis of each game and verdict on which was the "right" side of the play. Let's go to the tape:

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Arizona 21 San Francisco 19

The QuantCoach was feeling pretty fat and happy when the Niners built a 19-7 lead, but Mr. Millman got the the last laugh when the Cardinals rallied to win behind the infinite productivity of backup quarterback John Skelton. However, San Francisco finished the game +3 turnovers, just as QC speculated.

Here is the record of all the other NFL teams in 2011 who have finished a game +3 in turnovers or greater:

28-0

Here is how many times those other 28 NFL teams who finished +3 turnovers or more and won the game also covered 3.5 points:

28

Prior to the game, QC's research indicated Arizona had a 51.5% chance to cover the 3.5 points. So, without the benefit of knowing the turnover differential, the Cardinals were just slightly the better choice. But that quickly decreases to a 0% chance of victory as a team piles up turnovers, as Arizona did.

THE RIGHT SIDE: Clearly, San Francisco was the right side of this play. (Mr. Millman--and others who chose Arizona based on the 80/20 Rule or any other reason--was as lucky as any punter has been this year. And QC is not talking about Shane Lechler.)

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New England 34 Washington 27

New England prevailed and also won the turnover battle as QC speculated (2-1), but the Patriots were 1 point shy of covering the 8-point spread. The primary reason the Patriots let QC down was a ghastly interception that Tom Brady threw in the fourth quarter in the Washington end zone that could have given the Patriots a 14-point lead. You undoubtedly saw it. Its' the one that led to offensive coordinator Bil O'Brien arguing with Brady like a teen-age boy confronting his girl in a movie theater after he just saw her with another pimply faced teenager. Yeah, awkward for everyone.

If you had New England too, you also might be tempted to complain about the officiating. Washington blasted super-tight end Rob Gronkowski right in the face on what was a classic helmet-to-helmet hit, but the officials did not throw a flag and the Patriots had to settle for field goal. (To be fair, to warrant a penalty a receiver has to be in a defenseless position and "defenseless" is not the word that jumps to mind when the QuantCoach conjures up a mental image of Gronkowski.)

Also, the officials nullified a Grossman interception that enabled Washington to pick up a field goal when it flagged Andre Carter for personal foul when he made contact with the quarterback as Rex unloaded one of his patented, "off-the-back-foot, what-the-hell-was-he-thinking" heaves.

But to complain would not be sporting and we are all gentlemen here. So QC won't do it here. (Drunk in a bar by himself, that is a different story.)

Prior to the game, QC's research indicated Washington had a 59% chance to cover and the well-respectd Prediction Machine said the Redskins chances were 58%. So there were plenty of reasons to think Washington was the right choice here that had nothing to do with all that money on New England.

THE RIGHT SIDE: Washington was the right side of this play. (In the NFL, 8 points is a lot for any team to cover against any other team and a number that ol' QC always considers taking . New England needed one more--or one less--turnover to do it. Brady's waste was just too costly to turn a profit on the Patriots.)